Beach Birthday Part 2- Family, food and fun!

What can you do with your family at the beach in January? Well, first and foremost, you can wake up every day with a view like this. Can you imagine anything more relaxing? Even though it was cold, Gavin and I braved the beach each morning, walking for miles without seeing anyone. It was like having your own private beach resort. Our rental house, besides being beautiful (see for yourself, right), was incredibly well-equipped (I can't say enough about Kitty Hawk Rentals, they were incredible).

Once we were settled in, and had gotten some lunch at the Beach Road Grill, which was right next door, it was time to explore. There were plenty of bedrooms so that everyone could spread out. The first floor had a hot tub(there will be no hot tub pictures posted here, though we really enjoyed it!) and a rec room with both a foosball and ping pong table. The kids started a foosball tournament while I put food away, and started birthday dinner. Gavin's brother and his wife (who gave us the referral for Kitty Hawk Rentals) joined us and we began by making a batch of sangria (a favorite of adult Dowds) while Gavin (still a bit shell-shocked from finding out he was in for four days at the beach instead of just a meal!) and his brother John headed out on the deck to talk politics.

Gavin has been on a Mexican food kick since we began eating at La Cocina del Sol in Crozet (this had been so much of a joke that Colleen got him a sombrero and pinata as a Christmas gift!), and so I searched for something new to make with a Mexican twist. I selected a delicious stew that I adapted from a recipe I found on Food Network that was served over a bed of mashed chipotle sweet potatoes. Molly made one of her famous salads, and in lieu of traditional birthday cake, I made one of the birthday boy's favorites, Boston Cream Pie (Bridget, Molly and Colleen with Dad).

What else do you eat at the beach in January? Seafood, of course. We made a big pot of clam chowder our second night, a perfect choice with a cold wind blowing outside. Our last dinner was a seafood feast with Katie's stuffed mussels, steamed shrimp and crab legs.

It was a wonderful trip, and one we will never forget, mainly because of the quality time we had together, making meals, playing Spoons, Wii bowling tournaments,and just being together without the pressures of work and school. It was a great birthday gift for my husband that was a treat for our whole family! We can't wait to do it again, only this time we hope to have all the Dowds together!

Things we loved about being at the beach in winter:

No crowds (Our only competition for the beach at left)

No sunburn

The great coffeemaker that dispensed one cup at a time

Everyone was so glad to see us and service was extraordinary whether it was the souvenir shop, or the grocery store. They were just thrilled to have customers.

Foosball- it was a big hit! (see Andrew and Molly in a no-holds-barred match)

The birthday hat that our neighbor Rene made and the girls stayed up all night decorating (see it right, Gavin said he'd kill me if I posted the picture of him wearing it!)

Playing Murder and Sardines, parlor games our neighbor Rene taught us, at night in the three-level house. Murder is a game where someone commits a murder and a predetermined investigator (we use playing cards to determine the murderer, investigator, and back-up investigator) asks questions to determine who was the culprit. Sardines is a game where one person hides and then everyone goes looking for them. When you find them you stay in the place they are, trying to stay quiet until you have a huge giggling crowd in the bathtub, or in a closet. Both of these games are played in the dark, and they are guaranteed to get everyone laughing!

The mexican stew we had for the birthday dinner- it was so outstanding we have made it twice since then.

Mexican Stew with Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes (inspired by recipe on Food Network )

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoon ground chipotle chili pepper (or to taste- this proportion makes a medium to hot spicy dish)

2 pounds beef or bison for stew, cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces*

1 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups chopped red, yellow and green bell pepper (any combination is fine)

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 1/2 cups ready-to-serve beef broth

1 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

1 teaspoon adobo sauce from chipotle peppers

Chipotle Sweet Potatoes: 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces

1 to 2 tablespoons butter, optional

1 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

1 teaspoon adobo sauce from chipotle peppers

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper

Combine flour, cocoa and chile powder a large Ziploc bag. Add beef and toss to coat evenly with flour mixture. Remove meat and reserve any excess flour mixture. Heat butter and oil in dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Brown meat in small batches and remove from pot, setting aside until all meat is browned. Season meat with salt and black pepper.

Add bell peppers to the dutch oven and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, broth, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce and reserved flour mixture. Return beef to stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover tightly and simmer 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 hours or until beef is fork-tender.

Meanwhile prepare Chipotle Sweet Potatoes:
Place sweet potatoes in large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Return potatoes and reserved cooking liquid to saucepan; add butter, if desired, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, salt and chile pepper. Mash potatoes until just blended and slightly chunky. Serve stew over sweet potatoes.

*Tip: When you buy stew beef or bison, it is often from less tender cuts. Toss it with unseasoned meat tenderizer (about 1 tsp per pound) before freezing. The meat will then tenderize as it is defrosting and result in a more succulent stew.
Dowd Family "Legal in Virginia" Sangria
Here in Virginia, many of us recently found out that Sangria, usually made with a combination of wine, brandy and triple sec is actually banned beause of a 75-year old law that prohibits the pre-mixture of wine with distilled spirits. Well, we have been making a simple sangria for years that is legal even here in Virginia, and it is a favorite with family and friends. While it can be consumed straight, I like to mix it half and half with dry ginger ale for a light spritzer-type drink that is great with everything!
1 bottle "fruit-forward" red wine (Shiraz is our favorite)
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups assorted fruit (sliced citrus, apples,plums, strawberries and red grapes cut in half are a great combination)
Mix wine and sugar together in a large pitcher and add fruit. Let sit in fridge for at least 4 hours (overnight is best). Serve cold.
Note: In the summer you can make a white version using a riesling, 1/4 cup sugar, and summer fruits like peaches, melons and white grapes with some citrus that is outstanding with grilled and barbecued foods!

For best results, serve with a healthy serving of the sunset, below.


Your pictures are making me long for the beach! I haven't been on vacation in way too long. The recipes sound great, too. I've just begun using chipotle. I don't know if I can handle a whole tablespoon of ground chipotle chili pepper though--I might have to work my way up slowly!
Ann said…
What a wonderful-sounding day... topped off with great food!
Trudy said…
What a great idea, a beach vacation in January! As you say, no crowds on the beach and no sunburn -- but you still get those amazing beach views (and I bet that hot tub made up for swims in the ocean).
Deborah Dowd said…
VF- The recipe makes a medium spicy stew, but you can adjust to your own taste. Going to the beach in the off season is a great way t get a cheap vacation!

Ann- We were there for 4 days, and we enjoyed every minute... and every meal!

Trudy- It was a great time, and the hot tub was great fun, and very relaxing.
Tartelette said…
What a great holiday! Laughters, smiles and great food!!
Deborah Dowd said…
Tartelette- It was a very spcial time, especially since it was a total surprise for my husband!
kristen said…
I know I have told you before, but I am so jealous of where you live! My brother lives in nearby North Carolina, and when my parents were there a few weeks ago went with them to Kitty Hawk and have been raving about it ever since! I was there as well 2 years ago this month, but it was so freezing that all we did was take a look at the beach, and then hit the outlet stores :)
Sounds like a great birthday party-I wish someone would throw me one! I'm definitely going to try that stew, but even more i'm going to try those potatoes!
katiez said…
I love going to the beach in winter! We can take the dogs and walk for hours! It's so peaceful - cold, yes, but not with the summer hordes. What a lovely house party!
Deborah Dowd said…
Kristen- This is really a great area- a short drive to either the coast or the mountains. And the Outer Banks is always our getaway of choice when we are not camping.

Katiez- There are great things about both but for relaxing, the off-season beach is truly therapeutic!